Have you ever felt nervous before giving feedback or worried about how a colleague might react to it?
Giving feedback is often challenging, as I’ve often experienced through my role as a peer assessor for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), Ontario’s medical regulatory authority. I understand that it can feel a bit strange to be formally assessed by a peer, especially initially. That’s why I take on this role with the sincere intention to provide objective feedback that helps improve performance and I engage in continuous learning to make sure this objective intention is reflected in my practice.
Below are four ways that have helped my approach to giving feedback over the years. These tips can be applied to all types of contexts and situations, from an annual performance review to a hallway chat with a team member:
- Invest in skills development: While feedback is generally well received, some individuals can react negatively, especially when faced with feedback that is perceived as critical. In such situations, communication skills are the biggest asset. What helped me was enrolling in a number of physician leadership courses through the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I would encourage anyone wanting to further develop his/her feedback skills to take a formal course on influencing, communication or conflict management.
- Practise, practise, practise: Courses have helped me better understand the knowledge and theory of effective communication, but I also need to find opportunities to practise what I have learned. I try to do this (even informally) with the people I work with or with people I encounter in my work settings, including peers, nurses and residents. Whenever possible, I pass out anonymous evaluation forms to get feedback about my own skills, which I regularly review. I use this feedback to make personal goals and to benchmark improvements. One of the most important things I have learned is that body language and the way one approaches people are immensely important, especially on initial contact: one never gets a second chance to leave a first impression!
- Harness the power of simulation: I’m a very strong proponent of simulation, which is another way to practise effective communication and to troubleshoot the challenges associated with it. We once ran a simulation course for residents and invited an actor to play the family member of a patient who died during a low-risk ambulatory surgery. We filmed the residents as they broke the news to the family member, and then did a debriefing of their communications skills. The actor gave feedback too, sharing her assessment of their approach. She indicated moments when she felt the residents came across as empathetic (“when you leaned forward, that was very comforting to me”) and when they didn’t (“when you looked the other way, that didn’t help me”). This use of simulation is a very powerful learning tool not only for our residents, but also for me. I cannot overstate how much I have learned from my involvement in these courses.
- Organize feedback using the CanMEDS Framework: Over the years, I have started to frame my feedback using the CanMEDS Roles. I find this helpful, since many health care professionals who trained in Canada are familiar with the format. I also like to receive feedback in this way. For example, in the evaluation forms I pass out after presentations, I ask for feedback on how I did as a Scholar (did I know my material?) and how I did as a Collaborator (was I a good listener?) This gives me important guidance using a structured rubric.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Giving (and receiving) feedback is as much a personal as a professional skill — and there is never any shortage of opportunities to practise and to learn! Good luck on your own feedback journey and please get in touch if you’d like to chat.
Did you know? You can claim MOC credits as you practise feedback skills
Taking a formal course =
25 credits per course (Section 2: Formal courses)
Giving feedback through peer review =
15 credits per year (Section 2: Peer review)
Receiving and reflecting on feedback on your skills as a communicator=
3 credits per hour (Section 3: Practice assessments)